STUNT ISLAND by Disney Software Reviewed by David Pipes Disney Software's Stunt Island falls into the category of groundbreaking games. Actually, it leaps there. As Simcity and Railroad Tycoon did before it, Stunt Island takes off as an ordinary genre game - the flight simulator - and immediately veers off into uncharted territory, merrily flying through loops of film editing and touring newly designed sets of cinematic wizardry. This plain simulator acquires the expected Disney magic by letting you become the Director - nay, better still, the Editor - of all you survey. Actually, the first thing you will survey is the Island itself. Composed of a number of sites - post-production, the airfield, the stunt director's office - the film consortium's headquarters is navigated with the help of a number of useful signposts. You will never be more than a few mouse- clicks away from any particular location. Tropical plants and birds add a Hawaiian feel to area. Once you've taken a look at the black and white map of the Island which accompanies the game, you can travel to the airfield to borrow one of many aircraft available for stunts and site-seeing. For your first trip, I suggest a jet, which can reach speeds of over 400 miles an hour to get you to interesting sights quickly, but still allow you to loiter at slower speeds to admire the terrain. Travelling around will also give you a feel for what is one of the more pedestrian elements of the game, flying. While this is a component of all of the stunts, the flight models are primitive compared to some of the genre's more recent offers. A joystick will help, but the basic nature of the simulator is still that of the car your Dad always loaned you while you were learning to drive; it'll get you there, but it is not a Ferrari. For example, I found that the joystick response has a lag built in, in the use of a dead zone in stick response. While this is necessary to handle joysticks which are very sensitive or a little jittery, it induces a distressingly accurate simulation of pilot induced oscillation. In PIO, your response to visual input is slow enough that your commands come too late, and exaggerate whatever situation exists. This is a manageable problem, but it can be annoying. In addition, either the ailerons or the rudder can be controlled by the side-to-side motion of the stick, but not both. This is truly weird, and must be set before the stunt. I would have preferred the standard solution of setting aileron response to the stick motion and putting the rudder controls on the keyboard. Some complex maneuvers are nearly impossible without an uncoordinated rudder and aileron. However, the planes do fly predictably and without undue fuss. I have had little trouble completeing stunts, and the flight models rarely get in the way. What the above comments are meant to convey is that, as far as the actual simulation of flight in the game is concerned, you have just purchased a sensible, sturdy simulator, without the hard-edged chromed co- processor model of a Falcon 3.0. This is probably a good thing, in light of what you are asked to do with these planes. Anyway, the best way to keep your mind off of the plain vanilla flavor of the flight model is to look out the window. At first, you'll think that you flew back in time a few years, with triangular mountains jagging up on the horizon. Just fly around a bit, and you'll realize that this is not the case. The true nature of the game is found in the cities and towns which dot the island. Block after block of city buildings, with skyscrapers and bridges in the distance. Trees which actually look like trees - lots of them. Windows and doors, paving lines on the streets. Intricate specialty structures, like a full power station or a military base with row after row of tents. And with all of this, no real noticeable slowdown in display rate! While the game does recommend a 386-33DX or faster, there are reports on the Net of reduced detail versions running very well with a 386-25 SX, so there is hope for the budget machines out there. This is a game of fast, vibrant graphics, which will leave you feeling like you are on a high-powered workstation rather than an ordinary pc. It gives the feel of soaring freely through the sights of the Island, and creates the critical impression of actually being there which gives the game its' amazing feel. Stunt Island was built with 34 main locations to film in, as well as plenty of "empty" forests, mountains, ocean, rivers and the like to allow you to build your own sets. The locations range from landing strips to LAX, and from a small fishing village to Jackson City, a metropolis with parks, highway interchanges, docks, skyscrapers and the Golden Gate Bridge. In other areas, you will find Alcatraz Island, a medieval castle, a farm, a Hydro power plant, 2 stadiums, a tunnel, the UN building, an aircraft carrier, the LA Aqueduct, canyons, oil rigs, bridges, lakes, forests, jungles, beaches, freeways, a dam, railroad tracks, a movie studio and even Stonehenge. All rendered with surprising detail - signs outside businesses, power lines with wires, suspension cables on bridges, vegetation, sidewalks in parks... There are two major parts to Stunt Island; the Competition, and film- making. The competition is a set of 30-odd stunts ranging from easy (fly through a barn) to difficult (land on top of a building) to "what-kind-of-mutants-can-do-this?" (landing a plane on the next-to-last car of a moving train). You compete with computer players to finish scenes in the fewest number of takes. (I have not found a way for humans to actually be in the competition simultaneously, although you can of course fly back to back missions outside the competition and compare scores.) At the completion of each take, you can save your film for later work, or just have the computer produce a finished work for you. Flying in the competition is good for those who like to dive into a challenge without worrying about details; it is a great stress reliever after a long day. The other side of the game is more complicated. It involves actually going into the game as a designer, carefully building a set with the addition of up to 32 props and 8 cameras (which can be concealed as other objects, or made invisible). Yes, 32 props does not sound like much - until you realize that these props are not just window dressing. Stunt Island contains many hundreds of objects to use in stunts. The planes are there, as you would expect, everything from balloons and pteradactyls to Curtiss Junebugs, WWI fighters, '30's racers, WWII fighters, civilian and military jets, the stealth bomber, the SR71, the Space Shuttle - a modern menagerie of movie magnificents. But there are other things as well - plants, movie-making equipment, cars, trucks, buildings, military vehicles, missles, ships, submarines, smoke... A gigantic list of, well, toys for you to play with. Best of all, like all the really good toys you wanted as a child, when you wind these up, they move. All of the props can be programmed to move. They can wait for an event and then start or stop motion. They can explode, or fire weapons, or careen into obstacles and then explode. They can chase you, or you can chase them. Hit a car and it will follow your directions to spin out off of the highway overpass into the traffic below. Cameras pan and zoom to record your progress. An entire clockwork organism which you create can be set into motion, to be integrated into raw film by your success at the critical time in the cockpit of your plane. This is the Vulcan second heart of the game, the thing which ensures that it will not join the other old flight simulators on the shelf when the mechanics of just flying pale. This is where you become like Peter O'Toole in "The Stunt Man", all- seeing, all-knowing director of a carefully fashioned illusion. As Director of a stunt, you need to learn more than just set design. You need to consider the field of view of your cameras, to make sure that the background is consistent and pleasing. You need to have enough cameras to get the myriad views which will make up the final scene. Some way to get generic footage is advisable, to fill in dead space or facilitate a cut from one place to another. Props must add to the view, not obscure it. This aspect of the game is so complete that I suspect that this is based on an actual planning tool used by Disney to put together scenes. I believe that this program could actually benefit classes in film-making; the simulation is that complete. Of course, putting all this detail together is time-consuming. But once you get the hang of it, you will have no trouble. Here are a few hints for handling the set design: Remember that all props must have their elevation adjusted. Click on the crosshairs in the view window and hold while using the mouse to maneuver to the correct location. The actual point of placement is directly below the crosshairs, so the overhead angle is best for placement. Place the object, then adjust its' altitude until it is visible in the correct location. Then you can make it invisible or program it as needed. Lock your props and save after placing each one. Don't use any more program commands than are absolutely needed - they have some surprising interactions. Use the crosshairs again to move around and check the view from the placement location. So, you have flown around and done a few stunts. You have even set up your own. What is next? Editing, of course. This involves the raw camera film from each angle and a dual cassette video mastering machine, with sound and special effects available. Basically, you select portions of the raw footage to be copied from one machine to the second, which contains your final version. You can add 2 channels of sounds, which come in a great variety giving you music, screams, explosions, engines and the like. You can even use your own .voc files. And there are visual effects - fade in and out, vary color saturation. Combined with the ability to do quick-cuts and use other standard editing techniques, you can turn a 30- second stunt into a tension-filled 2-minute epic, or reduce a leisurely 5 minute flight into a montage of close calls and daring flying. Other films can be loaded in to tie two or more stunts together, or to provide stock footage - a plane turning against a clear sky, for example, can replace a boring shot of a straight approach to the target. This is what making movies is all about. One of the more interesting things to do is to give the same raw footage to several different people, then compare the final scenes. You'll be amazed at how differently people approach the same tasks. The final films can be freely distributed, with some files which allow them to be viewed and heard. Thus, you can upload your best stunts to your local bulletin board, or take a portfolio over to your best friend's house to wow the kids. All in all, Stunt Island is a good flight simulator, but that is not its' only strength. The movie-making is unique, and is the true appeal. Up to 20 minutes of finished film can be produced in one segment, allowing some truly creative work to be done. Disney Software has a hit with this program, make no mistake about that. As I said in the preview last month, many people are going to find this program waiting for them over the holiday season; it runs a good chance of preventing them from getting to any others that might happen to appear. Stunt Island requires 570k free RAM, a 386-16 SX processor, 256-color VGA and color monitor, 13 MB of free disk space and DOS 3.3 to 5.0 as a minimum. I would recommend a faster machine - 386-33 DX - for full detail, as well as a mouse and a joystick. A sound board of the Adlib, Roland, Sound Blaster, Thunder Board or Sound Source families is a good addition, while extra RAM - at least 2 MB - is also helpful. There is a problem with the use of a Sound Blaster; the sound will have a "fuzzy" overtone, but it does not seem to interfere with the understanding of speech or effects. On my machine, it sounds a bit like light radio static - nothing terrible. This review is Copyright (C) 1992 by David Pipes. All rights reserved.